I visited the Illinois Railway Museum in McHenry County this weekend where they operate electric-powered streetcars from the early 20th century and maintain almost 100 different passenger trains. These were heavily used for decades as Chicago had the largest streetcar network in the world. General Motors was indicted in the 1940s for its role in buying up these private companies in order to rip out the track and overhead wires and push the oil-powered automobile on the nation.
Now that oil is around $60 a barrel and we are dependent on other nations for our power -- which is another way that we export our wealth and create large trade deficits -- the economic disadvantages of our lack of electric-powered transportation is evident. We generate electricity in Illinois. We have hundreds of years worth of coal here. We should be using that for our transportation, not oil that is in Canada or Mexico or Venezuela or Saudi Arabia. If, that is, we want to keep the money we spend on transportation in Illinois and the United States to enrich ourselves, and not enrich other people with it.
So it strikes me that the electric-powered transportation that we do have in the region -- the CTA's El, Metra's Electric Line and the South Shore Line to South Bend -- ought to be rewarded somehow for using Illinois-made electricity and not foreign-made oil. As the Illinois General Assembly debates the region's funding formula, we should figure out how to encourage more use of electric-powered transportation, because that stimulates our economy, weans off of foreign oil and keep our air cleaner.
The same ought to go for using 100% biodiesel in any of the trains or busses (or, for that matter, any fuel that is made in Illinois). And I think the State with the RTA would be the right government to set up those incentives.